Monday, November 14, 2005


For the past few months I have again been enrolled in the advanced Italian conversation class which previously so intimidated me. While I'm not necessarily improving at a rapid pace, I find myself understanding more of the conversations, participating a tad more, and enjoying the interaction. In short, I look forward to Wednesday mornings.

There are five of us students with the teacher and this term we are meeting at her home. This has been much more conducive than a sterile classroom to the free exchange of ideas, opinions, and thoughts. I have gotten to know much more about my fellow Italian-speakers and I'm awed by them. We have an amazing circle of women (and one man) who have led fascinating lives, overcome incredible hardships, loved deeply, given much, and who laugh often. They are, I think, steel magnolias - beautiful and delicate yet strong, with resolve, talented and complex, who continue to bloom.

Spending time with these ladies is pleasurable. Their stories touch me, inspire me. Each is unique with an interesting history, yet we've melded together over our common desire to learn Italian. Is it speaking in a foreign language that allows people to open up a bit more about themselves? Or just the feeling of safety we have as we are cocooned away in the living room sipping coffee for two hours as one topic flows into the next.

I often feel rather mute, not so much because of my still-lacking Italian skills, but because I don't have much to offer to their years of experience and intrigue. Any one of their lives could easily be made into a compelling, beautiful film. My own,often dull 39 years would make a short, not-so-interesting comedy in comparison. And that's okay. I am just thrilled to be part of this group, to hear their stories, to learn from them and laugh with them, and hope that I will be as graceful and giving and full of life as my years pass. Oh yes, and as fluent in Italian. I have much to learn.

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

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